- Wartime Images, Peacetime Wounds: The Media and the Gustafsen Lake Standoff
Media images of armed First Nations blockading roads and occupying land have recently declined. Sandra Lambertus's study of the Gustafsen Lake Standoff of 1995, however, should give one pause before accepting at face value what is offered in TV, radio, and print media. [End Page 458]
Using various forms of media analysis, Lambertus offers an overview of the general course of events during the standoff, and the efforts of the media, government, RCMP, and Native protestors to shape the message disseminated to the public. As she notes, the story of Gustafsen Lake is 'a story of manipulation of media.' Her use of interviews with RCMP and journalists is particularly useful in her deconstruction of the standoff, and the media's role in it.
c RCMP led him into a carefully planned trap. Lambertus reveals how the Mounties used a local journalist to relay messages to Clark, allowed Clark access to the Native camp at Gustafsen Lake, and eventually accepted him as a spokesperson for the camp. The RCMP was actually waiting for Clark to 'self-destruct.' Clark did what the RCMP psychologist hoped: he took a radical approach to the situation, was arrested by the RCMP, and was eventually charged with contempt by a British Columbia judge. Clark was neutralized.
If Lambertus's book has a failing, it is its focus on the RCMP. Clearly the Mounties manipulated the situation, and Lambertus does an excellent job outlining this. However, the attitude of the media is appalling. If the RCMP manipulated Clark, the journalists exploited his flamboyant personality for TV. Concern with content led journalists to sacrifice analysis. It is part of the broader problem of twenty-four-hour news - information overload without context. Her treatment of the CBC's role in broadcasting a radio message to the camp, at the RCMP's request, highlights this. She asks if the CBC became an agent of the RCMP, a fair question. However, does twenty-four-hour news and the desire for the scoop make the media an easy target? Equally interesting is the apparent backpedalling and navel-gazing of the CBC after they failed to get the promised scoop for complying.
Little attention is devoted to the role of the Natives in their efforts to manipulate the media. The media has its stereotypes of First Nations, but I would suggest that stereotyping is a reciprocal process. Lambertus's analysis of the shoot-outs between the Natives and the RCMP focuses almost entirely on how the Mounties controlled and handled information, but there is nothing on the efforts of camp members to do likewise. However, despite these weaknesses, Lambertus's book offers a useful analysis of the media's role in the Gustafsen Lake Standoff, and the efforts of all the players to manipulate it. [End Page 459]
David Calverley, Faculty of Education, Nipissing University